Tuesday, June 6, 2017


Yesterday morning was warm... no, change that... Yesterday morning was hot and humid.
While picking snap peas (oh, I could sing the virtues of snap peas) I leaned over this mass of white arugula blossoms and caught a whiff of a pleasant fragrance. I did not know that arugula blossoms emitted such a sweet smell.

The garden daily brings me surprises. I wish they were all this sweet.

One does not usually couple arugula with sweetness. Its leaves add a pleasant, pungent bitterness to salads, something like mustard greens (to which it is related), but not quite. My first taste of arugula (20 years ago?) left me somewhat ambivalent. I wasn't quite sure if I liked it or not. But I've grown to love it and my garden is never without it. Indeed, if you routinely let it flower and set seed, just try to be without it.

It grows and tastes best when the weather is on the cool side, but with regular harvesting stands up reasonably well in the heat. Except it does bolt quickly when it gets warm.So I'll just go about smelling the arugula flowers. Imagine.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Poppies, poppies....

Poppies, so many poppies. We could call the Full Moon of June the Poppy Moon.

One of Shirley's many colors.
I so love these showy, brilliantly colored and varied flowers. The poppies shown above, playing nicely with the Echinacea pallida, are probably Shirley poppies (Papaver rhoeas). It's been so long since I planted the original seed that I have no idea which poppy breed they are, except that these look like Internet photos of Shirley poppies. But I also found other photos of "Shirleys" online that look different. They may simply be "double" cultivars. Double indicates extra rows of petals. Both the red and the pink are the same variety, as their colors vary greatly.

These are easy to grow and hardy annuals that must be planted each year.

Another Shirley, aka "corn poppy"
I collect the bulbous poppy seedheads when they turn brown, and shake out the seeds once they're fully dry (or, more likely, I'll just let them sit in a plastic container or a paper bag and the seeds mostly fall out on their own). In early spring, or even late fall I'll scatter the seeds...
Except, I don't always. Many times late fall and early spring pass by and the seeds are still sitting in their containers... which is what happened this year.

Fortunately these poppies self-sow rampantly. Their vivid blooms scattered among other blooms and greenery make a wild and lovely show.

The most famous -- or infamous -- species of poppy is Papaver somniferum, the opium poppy, which is the same species of poppy used to produce the seeds on your poppyseed bun. Opium production requires making an incision in the seed head, which then secretes a milky sap. The sap is left to dry until the next day, when it is scraped off. Production of opium seems like a very labor- and time-intensive activity. More effort than I'd want to go to. It's much easier just to shake the tiny black seeds from the pods and use them in baking. Tastier, too. And less likely to get you in trouble with the law.

Seeds for these lovelies were given to me by a friend. As far as
I can tell, they are Hungarian pepperbox, which is a cultivar of
the breadseed poppy, Papaver somniferum.
Some countries outright outlaw this poppy species and its extracts. Some require a license to grow them for legal medicines. Others have no laws ruling growing of these poppies, as far as I can tell. The U.S. allows these poppies to be grown for seed and ornamental purposes, but it is illegal to produce opium from them (naturally). At least that's how precedence stands. You can easily find seed for bread seed poppies and grow your own for baked goods, or just for their beauty.

It was probably a field of P. somniferum that Dorothy found herself walking through on her way to see the Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The fumes from the poppies put Dorothy, Toto and the Cowardly Lion to sleep. Of course, the Scarecrow and Tin Man, not having to breathe, were unaffected. Their method of escape from the deadly field of poppies differs between the book and the movie. However, it's doubtful that one will be affected by the narcotic effects of poppies just by walking through a field of them.

The opium poppy, as many powerful medicine plants, features in the myths of the Mediterranean region, their native stomping grounds. The most commonly known myth (at least to me) is that the Greek Goddess of the Fields, Demeter, created the opium poppy when her daughter Persephone went to live in the Underworld. The poppy helped her sleep. It also became the symbol of Hypnos, the God of Sleep, and his brother Thanatos, the God of Death (eternal sleep). The son of Hypnos, Morpheus, God of Dreams, also claimed the opium poppy for his symbol and the word "morphine" was derived from his name.

The Shirley poppy was earlier known as the corn poppy, as it grew in the grain fields, and also was sacred to Demeter. Another epithet for this species is "Flanders poppy," and it now symbolizes remembrance of those whose lives were lost in war.

Other poppy species also exist, including a few perennial and biennial species. There is the California poppy, and this lovely orange, but unknown-to-me species (at right). It came in a bag of seed for "bee flowers." I think some California poppies might have been in that bag, too, but I see none blooming now.

And finally, I have this lovely horned poppy, also known as sea poppy (Glaucium flavum) because of its love for the seaside. I gathered seed for this plant from one growing in the xeriscape demonstration garden at the Extension office. This species also produces bright yellow flowers, as well as these lovely orange ones. Xeriscape is a term for low moisture gardening. So it should work well in arid conditions, as its blue green foliage suggests. It is native to Europe, but seems to do well here. Apparently this is a short-lived perennial, so I must gather seed from this three-year-old plant if I want to be sure of enjoying its blooms year after year. The seedpods are long and pointed, unlike the bulbous pods of other poppy species, which gave it the name "horned" poppy.

Enjoy Poppy Moon, you all.

Friday, June 2, 2017


I walked down to the pond a couple of mornings ago to watch the spirits dancing across the surface of the water. Other people might call it mist, but I see beautiful spirits. It was in the last days of May and the mornings have still been cool enough for the spirits to rise from the water.

As I walked back to the house I saw something orange at the edge of the mowed area. Upon investigation I discovered this lovely wildflower. Consulting the "Kansas Wildflowers and Grasses" Web site I was able to identify it as Western Wallflower, Erysimum asperum, a flower I had not encountered before -- that I know of. It most frequently occurs as a bright yellow instead of this lovely orange yellow. Later I went searching for additional information on "western wallflower" and encountered numerous sites referring to Erysimum capitatum.


Surely the Kansas Wildflowers and Grasses Web site doesn't have the name wrong. Well, it doesn't. Further searching revealed that both species are referred to as western wallflower. Indeed, both species might actually just be one species. No matter how much the classifiers fiddle with things, confusion still remains.

Anyway, both species are members of the mustard family, aka Brassicaceae, the same family to which cabbage, broccoli, mustard, and so on belong. The evidence is in their four-petaled flowers, which initially caused their family to be called Cruciferae, referring to the cross-shape of the flowers.

Another new flower friend. I wonder if it will be possible to catch its seed and scatter it in the flower bed, and if its possible for me not to pull and resultant seedlings as "weeds."

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Turtle in the Garden

Something has been digging in the garden...
Just holes in the wood mulch here and there, and some spots where the hay and straw mulch on the sides of the raised beds has been pulled away.
One morning I discovered the hay mulch messed up over an entire 30-foot bed, with areas of disturbed soil

I wanted to blame the rabbits. And I did.

Until I found the lady pictured above sitting cozily inside the three-ring "tomato" cage set up to support a pepper plant. She just shoved pepper plant over (it was easily righted later, so no harm) and plopped her round hiney into the soil. Presumably she laid eggs, or at least tried.

Then I remembered the same kind of mysterious digging in the garden last year that coincided with the appearance of an ornate box turtle laying eggs... probably this very same box turtle, of the subspecies Terrapene ornata ornata, which prefers grasslands. Another subspecies of ornate box turtle, Terrapene ornata luteola, prefers more arid habitats.

I don't know that any of her eggs hatched last year. At least one of the nests she planted in the garden got dug up by something with a taste for turtle eggs. That predation and the fact that they produce few eggs at a time means the ornate box turtle has a very low reproduction rate. I hope she has better fortune this time. I will be anxious to see whether any quarter-size turtles appear in about two months. How to protect the babies from hungry critters, I don't know.

My box turtle neighbor would love snacking on these strawberries, if they were
not inside a fence intended to prevent rabbits, deer and opossums from eating
them. The turtle must then be satisfied with eating bugs, worms, carrion, and
wild berries and other vegetation.
Box turtles are unique in the turtle world in that they live their lives on land, not in water. Doesn't that make them tortoises? Apparently not, according to the people who classify things. It has something to do with the shape of their feet and other body parts, I gather. Anyway, once this lady is done laying eggs, the mysterious digging will cease. The bed she dug up has been put back into order. None of the seedlings that had already sprouted were disturbed and where no seedlings had emerged I replanted. No harm done.

I won't hold a grudge against her and I'm glad it wasn't the rabbits doing the digging. I really don't want to put up any more chicken wire fences. I've already got the strawberries permanently surrounded, and temporary fences around the peas, beans and sweet potatoes.

Surely, that's enough.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Happy May Day

This is a day in May, so it is a May day, even if I'm late for THE May Day.
So Happy May Day.

The Sweet Woodruff under the hedge tree has not yet bloomed, so technically we haven't yet reached the ancient May Day, also called Beltane.

But many other plants are blooming. Look at the chives (above)! Not only are they pretty and cheerful, but tasty too. Toss them into salads, sprinkle them on top of anything. Maybe not ice cream, but who knows... They dress up a plain dish and add an oniony pop.

The Souvenir de la Malmaison rose (pictured here) is about to open, in spite of dying back to the ground this winter (probably too dry). Since it's not a grafted rose it grows from its own roots. So these are indeed the buds of the Souvenir de la Malmaison. The blooms are white with a hint of pink, and they are fragrant.

Also blooming now is this wild indigo (right). I thought this was Baptisia leucophaea, which is native to this area. But that has drooping flower stalks, while the stalks of this one are erect. So I think this is Baptisia sphaerocarpa. There aren't many other choices. The blue wild indigo (B. australis) is beginning to bloom, as well.

The iris (no photo, sorry) are blooming early, including those old fashion purple iris that smell so wonderful. The hummingbirds are back, sipping from the wild columbine. The bumblebees and other bees happily dine at the comfrey blossoms. I'm picking lettuce, radishes, radicchio, spinach, and arugula. Numerous tiny apples form on the trees, and one of the peach trees has about a dozen baby peaches. I will guard them ferociously when they near ripeness, to keep the squirrels, or whatever, from stealing them.Strawberries are beginning to turn color and on Monday I plant the tomatoes!

Yay for May!

--In case you're still interested in ticks, here is an article from Mother Earth News about dealing with ticks, including some herbal repellants.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017


Don't these black raspberries look tidy now? Beware; it's tick country.
What is that tickle?
I frantically lift my shirt or my skirt, or drop my pants, and look (to the best of my ability, depending on where the tickle is). Every little ruffle of clothes or brush of a hair tickles. So I'm constantly checking -- especially if I've been crawling around in the garden. Gah! What is that tickle?

I try to be more discreet when I'm in public. But still I check. I haven't had to head to the restroom to check a tickle... yet. But every little tickling sensation raises suspicion.

It is the season of paranoia.

Tick paranoia, that is.

A couple of weeks ago I started work on my black raspberry bed, clearing away extraneous plants, dead canes and weeds, which required much crawling on the ground. I also walked a short way into the nearby tall grass to dump wheelbarrow loads of pruned canes.

As I sat down to dinner that evening I felt something tickling my belly. When I pulled up my shirt I discovered almost a half dozen tiny ticks  crawling up my abdomen. Later I took off my clothes (outside) and found quite a few more clinging to the inside of my shirt and jeans. Yikes!

So the black raspberry patch is a tick haven. Perhaps now that I've removed some of the shade, making it less cozy, the ticks won't like it as much. Maybe. But they seem to be everywhere. When I'm in the garden for any period of time I can expect to bring home a tick or two. These are tiny ticks, most likely the nymph phase, which is their second stage after hatching out. The larval stage ticks are even tinier and have just six legs, while the nymph and adult stages have eight. Yes, eight. They are arachnids not insects.

I think these guys are American dog ticks, not the black-legged deer ticks that spread Lyme disease. The other day I tried looking at a couple with a magnifying glass, but they moved so fast it was hard to get good detail. And counting their legs is nearly impossible.

While the dog ticks supposedly don't transmit Lyme disease, they can transmit other serious diseases, some potentially fatal. That makes thorough (and I do mean thorough; don't get squeamish) body checks necessary every night. (Believe, just taking a shower is not sufficient.) I might begin doing tick checks more than once a day. The sooner you get them off, the less chance they have of transmitting disease. Tick checks are best done with a friend who can more easily check those places you can't check yourself very well. Tick checks with a friend can be fun. Have a glass of wine and some chocolate and go with the flow. Just get all the ticks off first. And flush 'em.

I've also started putting my work clothes in the dryer and running it on high heat for 10 minutes (actually, I give it two or three minutes more) when I come in. That's supposed to kill any ticks still clinging to my apparel.

But I am beginning to tire of ticks just a bit. It seems I must remove my clothes every time I come indoors after working in the garden so I don't shed ticks everywhere. Last night I found four ticks on my husband, and he hadn't even been outside. Today I vacuumed the entire house, hoping to suck up any ticks that might be waiting for one of us to pass by.

Rather than rewrite all the tick info I found on the wide Web I'll just direct you to this link  and send you to K-State Research and Extension where you can find a free, downloadable publication about ticks here; look for publication MF598.

No need to fear, just do tick ch..... Gah! What's that tickle??!!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Garden Spears

It's asparagus season!
This cozy pair of shoots was consumed long ago, as I started my harvest just before the beginning of April. Lunch today included super tasty roasted asparagus. It's also great steamed and drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, or lightly cooked into stir-fries and other vegetable dishes.

In times past I've been forced to wait until almost mid-April for my first taste of this perennial vegetable. But our recent milder winters and early spring warm-ups seem to have pushed asparagus season up a couple of weeks. While this might appear to be a good thing to some, I'm not sure it is. Harvest should last only a couple of months regardless of when it starts. And last year the asparagus did not seem as productive as in previous years. It doesn't look like it will be quite as productive this year, either.

Some of the lack came from the disappearance of some of the plants. I'm not sure why they died out -- maybe because I don't water them much during droughty conditions. Anyway, this year I bought a half dozen crowns to fill in some empty spots. The nursery employee who checked out my purchases suggested putting rock salt on it. "They love it," he said. True or not true? Most things I read say that salt is an iffy additive at best, and detrimental over the long term at worst. Asparagus tolerates sodium chloride salt better than other plants, so application of rock salt has been used as weed control, but is not actually beneficial to the asparagus otherwise. Although some sources say that's still a controversy.

I'm not planning to use salt on my asparagus, as I did plant parsley in the asparagus bed, which is supposed to be helpful to the asparagus, although I forget how. Anyway, I'm always looking for ways to use my beds for more than one crop. I also get cilantro popping up in the asparagus. Since my husband eats lots of cilantro, I let it grow wherever it wants to -- almost.

Asparagus is relatively easy to grow. It prefers loose soil with plenty of organic matter, although it will still do well in pretty much any soil type, as long as the pH is about neutral. It's getting too late to plant asparagus here in northeast Kansas, so scope out your garden areas and start preparing your asparagus bed now, digging deeply and adding compost. Planting in a raised bed helps keep it well drained in extra rainy times, and allows the soil to warm a little sooner in spring. Don't harvest your asparagus in the year you plant it, and then harvest only minimally until the fourth year, when you can harvest the full eight weeks. You can extend the harvest a couple more weeks by allow a couple of fronds to form for each plant about midway. That provides energy from photosynthesis.